Cornelis Floris


A Mannerist Netherlandish artist, Floris developed a bizarre set of designs featuring mascarons grotesques in 1555.[1]

Cornelis Floris, Grotesque Ornamental Mask (Mascaron), Antwerp, 1555
Etching by Frans Huys
Wolfsburg Kunstmuseum

In 1555, Floris designed between 18 and 22 sheets with human faces made up from vegetal elements, some highly stylized, others still recognizable as leaves and fruits. The images merge the animal and vegetable realms, and also the living and nonliving. Floris' designs intermix classical and not-so-classical components in most unexpected and extravagant ways.

Floris, Mascaron "i", Antwerp, 1555
Engraving by Huys
From: Pourtraicture ingenieuse de plusieurs façon de Masques. Fort utile aulx painctres, orseures, Taillieurs de pierres, voirriers et Taillieurs d'images (Ingenious portrayal of several types of masks. Useful for painters, stoneworkers [and other trades]).

Floris, Mascaron "h", 1555
Engraving by Huys (Pourtraicture ingenieuse).

Floris was born in Antwerp but spent some time in Rome in the late 1530s when he would have been exposed to examples of Ancient Roman and Renaissance grotesque decoration. The grotesque style often featured fanciful creatures--part human, part plant. The prints of Cornelis Floris have been described as having a sinister quality about them. In several of his prints, the combination of the auricular (ear-like) quality of the framework and the presence of individual figures apparently held prisoner by it, does give an unsettling effect (V&A).

Cornelis Floris
Ornamental Grotesque, Print "F", from Veelderleij Veranderinghe van grotissen ende Compertimenten ghemaeckt tot dienste van alle die de Conste beminne ende ghebruiken, Antwerp, 1556.[2]
Etching, 30.7 x 20.9 cm.
Published by Hieronymus Cock
Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The etching series Veelderleij Veranderinghe van grotissen ende Compertimenten are known in English as "Many Variations of Grottoes and Compartments."

Associated terms: putti, festoons, strapwork, shell motif, fantasy, snail, Auricular Style, imprisonment, Mannerist art.

Floris was a pioneer of the Auricular Style, which was to reach its a peak only in the 17th century.[3]

Johannes Lutma, Cartouche auriculaire, Amsterdam, 1633-54.
BnF, Paris.[4]

1. Incomplete sets of the suite are available from Amsterdam Rijksmuseum and MAK Vienna (Ornamental Prints Online). See also Carsten-Peter Warncke, Die ornamentale Groteske in Deutschland, 1500-1650, 2 vols., Berlin: Verlag Volker Spiess, 1979.
2. Désiré Guilmard, Les maitres ornemanistes : dessinateurs, peintres, architectes, sculpteurs et graveurs, Paris: E. Plon, 1880-81, p. 477 no. 6; Berlin Staatliche Museen, Katalog der Ornamentstichsammlung, Berlin and Leipzig, 1936-39, no. 211.1; Peter Ward Jackson, "Some Main Streams and Tributaries in European Ornament from 1500 to 1750", VAM, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1969, 38.
3. Auricular describes the smooth, curved, rippling and pliable shapes that resemble a human ear. Floris' prints are very early examples of this type of ornament which was developed by goldsmiths attempting to demonstrate organic forms extruding from the surface. The style probably influenced the later Baroque and Rococo movements: in various of his designs, Floris incorporates abstracted zoological motifs, in most cases relating to the ocean.
4. Guilmard, Maîtres ornemanistes, vol. 2, pl. 16.

Online Resources
• Misteraitch, Giornale Nuovo: Faces of the Grotesque, 2006
• Peacay, BibliOdyssey: Grotesque Mask Heads, 2011
• Akermariano, Imaginarium: Masquerade, Somewhere between the Mask and the Face, 2011

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